How Do I Become a Professional Singer?

Research what it takes to become a singer. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Ethnomusicology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Professional Singer?

Professional singers perform music vocally either in specific genres like classical, jazz, opera, and rock or in a variety of genres. Singers may conduct live shows or have recorded versions of it. Jobs in this field often require a lot of practice, as well as different musical performance tryouts. Professional singers may have a manager who helps them find possible shows to perform at. They usually have to travel extensively to attend various events. Most professional singers also maintain active online accounts to help them connect with fans and promote their work. The following table lists educational and training requirements, key skills, and employment information for singers.

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree for most classical music organizations
Training RequiredVocal training
Education Field of StudyMusic theory or performance
Key SkillsDiscipline, musical talent, physical stamina, promotional skills
Job Growth (2014-2024)3%* (for musicians and singers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Professional Singers Do?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professional singers and vocalists record and perform vocal music in a variety of styles, with or without instrumental accompaniment. The National Association for Music Education (MENC) specifies a number of common careers for vocalists such as concert or opera member, concert soloist, nightclub vocalist, lounge entertainer, advertising musician, church choir or worship team member, music teacher, private voice coach, music theatre singer or recording artist (www.menc.org).

Skills and Education

Most vocalists begin training their voices at a young age by performing in school, church or community music groups and attending music camps. They also practice extensively by themselves and with other musicians during this time. MENC advises all prospective vocalists to take lessons with a private voice coach. Singers should also develop extensive musical literacy and learn the techniques of artists with similar styles.

The amount of formal education required depends on the position you intend to pursue. The BLS states that most singers in classical music organizations like operas and symphonies hold at least a bachelor's degree in music performance in addition to having passed rigorous auditions. Bachelor's programs typically contain courses in music theory, music history, performance, conducting and composition. A college degree is not often mandatory to become a professional recording artist but can provide helpful instruction in the form of music courses and one-on-one guidance. You might also consider enrolling in a program at a music conservatory or completing private lessons with an established musician.

How Can I Get Started in the Career?

Historically, vocalists interested in a recording career have begun by working with a band and marketing themselves to festivals, nightclubs, coffeehouses and other performance venues. You may also enlist a manager or agent to help navigate the business and then eventually record a demo to be marketed to promoters and shopped to record companies.

While this model still works, in an August 2011 article, The Nashville Scene explained that Web 2.0 has changed the business model for recording artists. Artists can now record music using widely-available home recording software, upload it to user sites and online music services, build a viral fanbase, and independently generate comparable revenue (www.nashvillescene.com). Since a well-maintained web presence is important for all artists, most independents use a mixture of both approaches.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A handful of related careers that also require a bachelor's degree include becoming producers and directors, music directors and composers and high school teachers. Producers and directors oversee the details of a production, including the hiring of actors, singers and other crew members. Music directors and composers work with singers and/or musicians. Music directors conduct live performances while composers write and create the music. On the other hand, high school teachers can include music and choir teachers. Teachers educate students in the 9th through 12th grades to prepare them for work or further education.

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